Monday, 21 January 2008

Insein Prison News : Older Nuns and Monks In Bad Health Conditions

19 January 2008
Original report : U Thar Nyunt Oo, VOA
Translation by Nay Chi U

After the last September crackdown of the 'Golden Colour Revolution', many monasteries and nunneries were raided and monks and nuns arrested by authorities acting for the Junta.

One of the monasteries raided was Thisa Tharapu School House in Arthar Wati Monastery Estate in North Okkala, Rangoon. Nuns and monks, some of them middle aged and some elderly have been arrested, and prosecuted for 'bringing religion into disrepute', and derobed. However the noble monks and nuns insist that they have been wrongly accused and carried on with their religious duties, while in custody, eventhough their robes were forcefully ripped off.

U Po Phyu, the solicitor who is representing them at court, explained to VOA that these nuns and monks are suffering from poor and deteriorating health condition as some of them are elderly and furthermore, Thisa Tharapu School House is just an ordinary monastery, serving the poor community of the surrounding area.

"There are 7 nuns and 7 monks altogether: Daw Pyanya Theingi 54, Daw Setta Ti 32, Daw Tay Ri 70, Daw Wonna 67, Daw Ponna Mi 80, Daw Theingi 64 and Daw Thila Nandi 48. The monks are U Arnan Da 61, U Wiimala 66, U Panya Nanda, U Kuthala 63, U Narawara 69, U Withuti 53 and U Pyanya Tharmi 53,"

"U Arnan Da and U Narawara both have had strokes and the two oldest nuns Daw Tay Ri and Daw Ponna Mi have been unwell. They were forced to appear before court and over the 10 court hearings, only one prosecuting witness appeared. Although they have been poorly, and suffering from deteriorating health, they have not received any treatment. Only yesterday, I decided to accept their case," said U Po Phyu.

VOA : What ever have they done to be accused of 'bringing religion into disrepute'?

"There have been quite a few charges: such as receiving cash for admission into the school house, for holding forged certificates, and junior monks pretending to be senior monks, etc,. Moreover, the prosecutions claimed that they confiscated uncensored and pornographic videos. When I asked the monks about them, they had no idea even of their existence and pointed out that they had no video player with which to view videos of any kind. I went to investigate their school house and can confirm that it is truly a very poor monastery and lacking all modern facilities - not a place that you can imagine someone watching any kind of videos."

VOA : What are the charges for the nuns?

"Obviously, they were all charged under the same sections and put together in the same case with the monks. There is no other separate collection of evidence."

VOA : Where and when were they arrested?

"On 29 September, during the September 'revolution'. The authorities acting for the Junta, decided to raid the school house on suspicion, hoping to find lots of politically active young and healthy monks. There was however, only this ageing group resident there but nevertheless they were arrested."

VOA : Did they actually protest during September?

"When I asked if they participated in the protests, they replied that they didn't even go out as they were rather shaken by it all and also some of them were poorly."

VOA : How about the prosecution witnesses and evidence?

"At the moment, the arrest warrant states that there is one forged certificate (monks' qualification) and also several pornographic videos. We can only find out about where they come from during the trial, which has not started yet."

VOA : Are they all detained in Insein prison? Have they been allowed family visits?

"Yes, all of them are in Insein prison. Families can't afford to visit so they only have some donors from N Okkala occasionally, bringing small offerings. The donors themselves are poor so it is just a very sad situation. They have been taken to court 10 or 11 times now and we only found out about it recently. We decided to try our best to represent them and managed to apply for general power only yesterday."

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